Outline of Extension Services

Rural Industries in South Australia

While South Australia covers approximately 98 million hectares - one eight of the area of the Australian continent - approximately one third of this area has no significant economic use and over one half is devoted to extensive pastoral pursuits. Less than 17% of the total area, approximately 16 million hectares, receives more than 250 mm (10") of rain per year.

A total of just under 66 million hectares is held in the State's 29,087 rural holdings. Of this total 51.4 million hectares are under pastoral lease where extensive grazing is practised. In the more favoured agricultural areas 5.87 million hectares are devoted to crops, sown pastures and fallow. Sown pastures account for 2.97 million hectares and cereal crops for 2.04 million hectares–56 000 hectares are devoted to vineyard, orchard and vegetable production.

A work force of 27,700 owners and permanent employees, supplemented by 12,000 to 13,000 temporary seasonal workers are engaged in rural production in the State.

Primary production plays a significant role in the economy of the State. Gross value of primary production, excluding forestry, mining and quarrying, varies between $300–$400 million. Subject to seasonal variations, the net annual value of production has been maintained at between $250 million–$300 million. This represents between 25% and 30% of the State's total production.

The contribution to export income is even greater. In 1971–72 exports of rural origin contributed 57% of South Australia's income, with a total value of over $229 million. Of this, the cereal grains accounted for $102 million, while exports from sheep and cattle industries amounted to $101 million.

South Australian agriculture is dominated by the sheep, wool enterprises. However, barley has always been an important crop, and in recent years beef cattle have become more important in the farm scene, with numbers now at a record 1.3 million, having trebled in the past 5 years.

In recent years sheep numbers have varied between 18 to 20 million depending on drought and wool prices. The predominant breed is the Merino, accounting for 85% of the population. They are well adapted to the harsh South Australian conditions and produce a high clip of medium to broad quality wool. Their wool predominates the 110 million kg annual clip.

Each year between 2.0 and 2.5 million hectares are sown to cereals the largest area is sown to wheat. This year, from approximately 1.4 million hectares, a harvest of 2.0 million tonnes is expected. The sowing of barley of 0.64 million hectares and 0.16 million hectares of oats are expected to yield 1.0 million tonnes of barley and 0.2 million tonnes of oats. Smaller areas of other field crops include field peas (14,000 hectares) and some oilseed rape, linseed and lupins.

The dairying industry, in addition to supplying the State's needs for fresh milk, produces over 6 000 tonnes of butter and 18 000 tonnes of cheese. While the State imports butter to supply the local market large quantities of cheese find a ready market overseas particularly in the Far Eastern countries including Japan.

Pig numbers have risen over the past five years to over 430,000 as producers meet the growing demand for pigmeats for the home and export markets.

South Australia, with 29 500 hectares of vines, is the largest wine producing State, with an annual vintage of near 180 megalitres, of which finds its way to other States and overseas markets. In addition, significant quantities of dried sultanas and raisins are produced.

A large variety of orchard crops are grown; citrus is the most important, with an annual crop of between 5 and 6 million bushels. About 20% of the crop is exported and the remainder is sold for the fresh fruit or juice market.

Agricultural Extension Services

The great majority of the extension services available in the State are provided by the Department of Agriculture. Useful contributions agribusiness, chiefly stock firms, and agricultural firms. Private farm advisory services, mainly in the form of agricultural consultants, are not extensive and the total number of people engaged is now only 7.

The Agricultural Bureau and to a lesser extent the Rural Youth Movement provide a means of exchange of farmer information and create extension opportunities for the Department of Agriculture and the other agencies.

Other Government departments play a small role - notably Roseworthy College, the Department of Lands and the Department of Further Education which arranges formal classroom courses in several subjects.

Department of Agriculture Services

History of the Development of the Department

The first attempts at agricultural extension in the state followed the formation in the 1880s of Roseworthy Agricultural College and the Central Agricultural Bureaux -the fore-runner of the present Agricultural Bureau. The Bureau was largely a forum for exchange of farmer information but it also arranged trials and demonstrations. One of its early objectives was to find plants which were better adapted to the environment.

Roseworthy College had teaching and research responsibilities, but notable research findings like the importance of superphosphate to cereal production were extended by College staff members.

The appointment of three technical specialists to the Department of Lands soon after the turn of the century was followed by the establishment of a Department of Agriculture in 1907.

Early in the life of the Department, emphasis was placed on the development of experimental farms in many parts of the State – Kybybolite Minnipa, Turretfield, Berri, Blackwood, Keith, Booborowie, Melrose, Hammond, and perhaps some others. These farms contributed much to the early development of South Australian agriculture. But they met political difficulties in the depression of the early thirties and only Kybybolite, Berri and Blackwood survived. Minnipa and Turretfield were later reinstated as research centres, and new ones were opened at Parndana on Kangaroo Island, Wanbi, Struan and Parafield. Berri and Blackwood which serviced the horticultural and viticultural industries for many years have now been replaced by Research Centres at Loxton, Lenswood and Nuriootpa.

Roseworthy College has operated continuously, and its main contribution to agriculture, apart from the training of diplomates in agriculture and oenology has undoubtedly been in cereal breeding.

The development of the Department's research function was affected significantly by the establishment of the Waite Agricultural Research Institute in the mid 1920s. For many years the South Australian Government, which provided financial assistance to the Waite Institute, held to the policy that research -including applied research -in many agricultural fields should be carried out at the Institute and not in the Department.

The first move towards the development of a decentralized extension service came during 1924–1926, when 8 District Agricultural Advisers and 4 District Dairy Advisers were appointed. In their districts, these men covered the broad field of agriculture, without specialization. They were for all practical purposes cast in the mould of the American county agent, except that specialist backing was then quite limited too. by 1940 there were still only 40 technical officers in the Department; these included district advisers attached to the Horticulture Branch. Livestock specialists were also added to the Department, and in the late 1940s the Stock and Brands Department, which operated in the field of animal health, was amalgamated with the Department of Agriculture. Motivated by serious wind and water erosion troubles throughout the State, a Soil Conservation Branch also developed in the 40s.

By 1950 the Department consisted of a Director of Agriculture and 7 Branches - Agriculture, Horticulture, Dairy, Soils, Animal Health, Animal Husbandry and Poultry. Poultry was later combined with Animal Husbandry. From 1948 to 1955 there was tremendous expansion in technical staff. Numbers grew from about 50 in 1948 to almost 200 in 1955. This expansion brought its problems. The situation was difficult administratively in that the proportion of inexperienced staff to seniors was great. Further, the generalist character of extension staff changed to a specialist orientation.

The administrative moves made at this time included the linking of related branches into industry divisions and the establishment of a division extension. The first appointment of a farm management officer was also made, the objective being to foster the adoption of a "whole farm" approach which would co-ordinate the efforts of subject matter specialists.

The structure of the Department is shown in Figure 1 while Table 1 gives an analysis of the roles played by the Department's staff. In general it may be said that research officers are university graduates – mainly in agricultural science or rural science. The extension staff includes an increasing proportion of graduates but still comprises a preponderance of officers with an agricultural college diploma. The regulatory staff includes graduates, diplomates and officers no post-secondary qualifications.

Details of Extension Services


The overall extension objective of the Department is to help farmers cope more effectively with their environment, which comprises not only physical but also social, economic and technological factors. Within the framework of this main objective, we can say that extension officers' functions include programmed objectives in communicating information. They also include on-farm advisory work, and move into the educational field of helping farmers to solve their own problems. For these purposes each of the technical branches have both research and extension functions (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Department of Agriculture organisational structure

Department of Agriculture - Structure

Table 1: Staff numbers by role

and Clerical
Central Executive and Personnel 7    
Agricultural Chemicals Branch 1    2
Agronomy Branch 6 39 35 2
Horticultural Branch 6 44 14 33
Soils Branch 5 28 16 0
Animal Health Branch 5 9 16 27
Dairy Branch 5 23 9 5
Livestock Branch 6 14 21 0
Research Centres Branch 13 33 0 0
Extension Services Branch 2 3 25 0
Accounts Branch 21    
Head Office clerical branch 78    
Country Offices clerical branch 26    
Northfield clerical branch 4    


  1. The above figures were extracted from the payroll sheets as at December 1973. Vacant positions are not included.
  2. Administration includes all officers from Graduate 3 level and above.

Figure 2: Distribution of district extension offices and research centres.

Distribution of offices and centres for Department of Agriculture (SA)

To fulfil the requirements of research more adequately,in 1965 a Research Centres Branch was created. The branch co-ordinates the activities of those research centres in which two or more branches have a major interest. In 1958 a farm management section was set up within the Department to assist and advise officers on the inclusion of farm management in their extension work. Between 1971 and 1973 the section was strengthened and economists are now located in four district centres besides head office. This has provided opportunities for training staff in a wide range of farm management tools. In addition, a strong marketing nucleus has been created in Adelaide; this publishes the quarterly "Rural Market Outlook". Other economists are also encouraged to specialise in a particular field such as economic assessment of research projects, farm machinery syndication and co-operatives. Further developments will include an educational service for farmers in several areas besides farm business management.

Regional Organisation

The development of a regional structure is still only in the planning stages. To date the only move in this direction has been to appoint an extension liaison officer at Struan. This has enabled some progress in the co-ordination of the extension efforts of officers from different branches and in fostering liaison between extension and research personnel. However, such an appointment cannot be expected to produce the substantial gains in the co-ordination of all aspects of the Department's activities which, it is hoped, will result from a regionally based organisation.

Figure 2 shows the present distribution of district extension offices and research centres.

Staff Qualifications and Training

The basic qualification for extension workers is the three-year agricultural college diploma. However, in recent years holders of the four-year diploma and graduates in agricultural science and rural science are being used to an increasing extent. Extension workers are usually entitled "adviser" - coupled with the discipline in which they are working, e.g. agricultural adviser. However, some graduate specialists which are chiefly engaged in extension work are entitled "officer", e.g. Livestock officer.

Graduate extension officers have the same status and salary range as graduate research officers with Class I classification. However, while research officers may progress to Class 11 and Class I II without any significant change in duties or increase in administrative responsibilities, the advancement of extension officers is dependent on an increased supervisory load. Diplomate extension officers may progress until they reach, after a probationary period, "professional adviser" status, at which time their salary is that of the Class I graduate.

The training of extension officers may be considered under:

Technical training

In the main extension officers undergo an apprenticeship training under a more experienced staff member. This is supported by technical conferences held annually within the branches and conferences or workshops held interstate. Some branches have a formalized training scheme laid out in which each officer has to gain experience in specific areas over a period of time. Most branches circulate printed technical notes.

Farm business management

This Department has tended to move from the formalized "pressure packed" training school towards half-day or one-day seminars held for officers in each of the industry branches. The industry branch supervisors then ensure that the officers apply the material in the field.

Extension training

Considerable developments have occurred in the past six years in this area and each extension officer is expected to undertake a "sequential" training programme which lasts from 5-7 years. The programme comprises schools at three levels of difficulty in communication theory and practice, in programme planning and in adult learning and group dynamics. "Continued training at higher levels is given to the more experienced staff in such areas as writing, photography, television and so on. The opportunity is taken to send experienced staff to the short course at the Queensland University and/or one of the diploma courses in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, or South Australia.


Until 1968 in-service training was provided in the induction extension school. In the future, the Personnel Section will undertake this function.

The Public Service Board of South Australia has also set up training courses at various levels and a number of officers are attending these.

Extension Objectives and Programmes

The setting of extension objectives 'at State level is primarily done at Branch Head level at head office.

Decisions are based on inputs from industry and marketing organisations, subject matter specialists within the Department, recommendations from the Standing Committee on Agriculture, research work done both within and outside the Department and from district extension officers.

At the district level, the adviser normally determines his objectives under the guidance of the senior adviser of this Branch. He takes into account the State level objectives and the particular needs of his area as indicated by farmer and industry contacts and Departmental subject matter specialists. In one Branch regional objectives are determined by consultation between advisers in adjoining districts.

Following the 1971 National Workshop dealing with programme planning, the technique has emerged as an important organisational tool . Ideas on the methods used at each level of programming have been gradually developed by officers whereby they will shortly be making more discriminating judgements as to their programmes.

However, it must be realised that besides extension programmes, officers are also generating objectives with relation to their total work load as well as to their self-development. Each of the areas requires a good deal of training, and development of skill takes time. Most of all, this Department has concentrated on obtaining acceptance of the concept from the top level to the lowest amongst the staff. Once this goal is reached then the more sophisticated methods of analysing situations , programme development and evaluation will be applied to an increasing extent.

Extension Research and Evaluation of Programmes

No pure extension research has been carried out within the Department. Evaluation of programmes has been at a fairly elementary level and has been carried out by staff for their individual projects. In only one instance have before-after measurements been taken in a programme and this followed work with neighbourhood groups of farmers over a period of three years.

Following the principles suggested by Dr. A. Durfee, moves are at present afoot to evaluate programmes more rigorously.

Special Services

A position of Women's Extension Officer was created about 1961. The f unction of this role is essentially to provide adult education in home economics. For this purpose , the Department has had, in recent years, to rely on Canadian graduates.

Other special services offered include seed testing and certification , pure seed production of cereals, herd testing, cheese starter service and soil testing.

The Department has recently decided to appoint a Greek speaking technical officer to cater for the needs of an important sector of producers in the River Murray irrigation area.

Research Extension Liaison

This is a most difficult area in that research officers are differentiated organizationally from extension officers. Further, the thinking and language of the research officer tends towards the scientific, and the extension officer more towards the pragmatic.

To attempt to overcome these difficulties, a large segment of the first level induction school (which both research and extension officers attend) is devoted to research-extension liaison. Further, at least one branch holds meetings of extension officers regularly in country areas . At these meetings, research officers provide information which is relevant to the extension needs. Most branches hold annual conferences in which both research and extension workers attend and contribute papers, certainly informal liaison occurs but this is likely more on the basis of personality compatibility than from a prescribed pattern.

Current trends and Developments

The most important current trend appears to be towards formalised regionalisation of the Department. With this present thinking, coordination of extension programmes will be a major objective in regrowth. It is also hoped that research-extension liaison will be facilitated. This will occur through definition of problems by research and extension officers working in co-ordination. Further, it is expected that local supervision of field staff (as opposed to supervision from Adelaide) will result in more systematic training and objective assessment of officers.

Another significant development is the strengthening of the services provided in farm business management and market information.

Training is another area in which developments are occurring; it would seem that the agricultural extension officer is required to develop knowledge and skills in a wider area than most adult educators cover. For this purpose training methods in the technical, farm management and extension fields used by the Department are presently under review. A detailed programme to serve as a guideline for the training for all extension officers is being prepared.

Research Services

There is a research section, headed by a Principal Research Office, in each of the six industry branches. In addition, the Research Centres Branch administrators six multi-discipline regional research centres and the biometrics section.

Research projects are conducted at the Northfield Research Laboratories, at several research centres and on private properties.

Northfield Research Laboratories

Situated in the Adelaide suburban area, this is the main centre for the Department's extensive programme of applied research. Northfield is administered within the Departmental policy by a committee of senior officers from each industry branch. An important consequence of this is the development of a strongly motivated inter-disciplinary approach among the research staff. Northfield staff maintain close contact with many other research organisations, e.g. CSIRO Divisions of Soils, Nutritional Biochemistry, Horticulture and Mathematical Statistics, Waite Agricultural Research Institute, the research unit of the Engineering and Water Supply Department, and the College of Advanced Education at Roseworthy.

Research at Northfield is carried out by officers from four branches viz. agronomy, dairying , horticulture and soils. Each officer is responsible to his own Branch Head and to the interdepartmental Research Liaison Committee for his research programme. Research plans have to be submitted on a pre-scheduled statement which requires approval before work is started.

Details of research programmes are available in the Department's Current Research Bulletin (the second edition is shortly to be published), the C.E.S.G. Technical Report, various Trust Fund Reports, the Branch Research reports of Agronomy, Dairy and Soils and in the series of
Horticulture reports.

Research Centres

Administered by Research Centres Branch

There are six centres where the range of activities extends across the interests of three or more of the Department's industry Branches. These are as follows:

  • Cereal zone: cereal cropping with livestock. Minnipa, Turretfield and Wanbi Research Centres. The Cleve centre is an outstation of the Minnipa Research Centre.
  • High Rainfall zone: primarily livestock with some cropping (Kybybolite, Struan and Kangaroo Island Research Centres.)

At each of these centres, the research programme comprises aspects of crop and animal production technology and soil management which are appropriate to the area.

Each officer in charge of a centre reports to the Superintendent of Research Centres, who has a major responsibility for co-ordination of the various programmes . The research centre staff typically comprises (a) technical officers and farm assistants who are concerned with property management and (b) research and technical officers involved in the research programme. All of these officers, including those who have been seconded from an industry branch, are responsible to the officer in charge.

However, each research officer has a nominated functional link with the appropriate industry branch; a pasture research officer, say, can thereby look for expert supervision and guidance from a senior research officer of the Agronomy Branch.

To an extent which varies from centre to centre, part of the research is conducted by visiting research officers who are members of an industry branch.

Proposals for new research projects on a centre may be initiated either by resident or visiting research officers. However, approval to proceed with them is dependent on the concurrence of the officer in charge, the Superintendent and the Research Liaison Committee. This committee, which includes the Superintendent and the Principal Research Officers of industry branches, is responsible for the co-ordination of all research projects and the effective use of research facilities.

Administered by Industry Branches

At several research centres, the main activities are within the range of interests of only one industry branch. These centres operate as part of the research section of the particular branch concerned, the officer in charge being responsible to the Branch Head through the principal research officer.

As with the centres mentioned above, the staff at each centre include both management and research sections. Similarly, both resident and visiting research officers contribute to the research programme.

Because only one branch is involved, problems of programme co-ordination are less complicated than in the case of the multi-discipline centres.

The centres under this heading are:

Horticulture Branch
Loxton Research Centre: River Hurray irrigation area.
Nuriootpa Research Centre: Barossa Valley viticultural area.
Lenswood Research Centre: Adelaide Hills.
Northfield Unit: adjacent to the Research Laboratories.

Dairy Branch
Northfield Research Centre: adjacent to the Research Laboratories.

Livestock Branch
Parafield Poultry Research Centre: Outer Adelaide suburbs.

Agronomy Branch
Parafield Plant Introduction Centre : Outer Adelaide suburbs.

Animal Health Branch
Northfield Pig Research Unit: adjacent to the Research Laboratories.

Research on Private Properties

In many field research projects , it is necessary to choose a location outside the Department's research centres in order to obtain a wider range of environmental or management factors. Northfield Research Laboratory and Research Centre staff and district officers may all be involved in such projects.

Planning and Co-ordination of Research Problems

Within areas which are broadly defined at Director level, heads of the industry branches and the Research Centres Branch
allocate specific areas of research to individual research officers. The formulation of research projects is the responsibility of the research officer, under the supervision and guidance of the principal research officer, or his nominee. In most branches, project pre-schedules are carefully examined by a research committee within the branch, and in all cases pre-schedules are distributed to members of the Research Liaison Committee which was referred to earlier. This committee is required, among other things, to ensure that there is proper co-ordination between branches with over lapping interests.

The research centres of the Department are listed above and their location is shown in Figure 2.

Current trends and developments

These include:

  1. a gradual change in scientific methodology to meet the increasingly complex field problems. Systematic analysis, in which the integrated effects of soil-plant-animal-climate are defined, will become more profitable than simple ad hoc techniques.
  2. the accumulation of a storehouse of technical data on soil, plant, climatic variation in districts, and on potential yields in order to be able to advise farmers more quickly and effectively on farm practices to meet changing market requirements and changing technology.
  3. in the livestock field, joint biological-economic projects are being encouraged to provide a sound basis for the economic assessment of new management techniques.
  4. the development of multi-disciplinary research groups to investigate broad problems, e.g. the need for copper fertiliser by soils, pastures and sheep.
  5. research relating to environmental pollution problems, the utilisation of effluent and waste water and the most efficient use of water resources.


100% of the finance for administration, 70% for extension, 55% for research and 75% for regulatory, service work and so on. Special Commonwealth funds provide the balance for regulatory work.

The Commonwealth Extension Services Grant provides about 25% and 20% of the finance used for extension and research respectively. Commowealth / industry finance contributes 20% of the funds used for research.

Other Groups concerned with Extension

The Department of Agriculture is fortunate in being associated with the Agricultural Bureau of South Australia, the Women's Agricultural
Bureau, and the Rural Youth Movement (both Senior and Juniors). Each at its top level of organization has a "Council", in one instance W.A.B. elected and in the other appointed by the Minister of Agriculture.

The Department is represented on each of the Councils and with the exception of the Rural Youth Movement, membership of the governing
body is drawn from the membership. In the case Rural Youth, a State Committee, reporting to Council, is fully representative of the Movement.

Through these organisations the Department has direct contact with 14,600 people in 377 separately organised groups. It may be noted in passing that there are more than 25,000 farm owners in South Australia.

Specific figure for each organisation are as follows:

  • Agricultural Bureau of South Australia: 8,000 members in 200 Branches
  • Women's Agricultural Bureau: 2,300 members in 83 Branches
  • Rural Youth Movement: 4,500 members in 94 Clubs.

With the scatter of branches that exists throughout the state, it is possible to discuss problems of importance to agriculture in all districts, without any political or sectarian influences. While the demands on Department agricultural extension staff are greatest from the Agricultural Bureau, the Rural Youth Movement and Women's Agricultural Bureau both provide specific agricultural learning situations in which our extension officers can make a contribution.

The planned internal re-organisation of the staff that services the three movements will lead to rationalisation of their functions. In particular, the officers will be called on to attend the needs of any of the three Movements.

Agricultural consultants' numbers were depleted between 1968 and 1970, but it would now appear that the numbers are static. The present tally is 7 and they are scattered over wide areas of the State. The functions of those engaged in the consultant role appear to vary from person to person - some appear to give technical advice in the main, others look at the economic issues in much greater depth. One
organisation has concentrated on supplying a management service for large properties or syndicates.

The part played by staff employed by agri-business in extension is also complex. Some members attend only to servicing clients, others are more concerned with sales, whilst there is a large number who are concerned with client's problems as well as sales. Estimates of numbers that are engaged in extension from agri-business therefore lack meaning.

Previous mention was made of the activities of the Department of Further Education. The objectives of this Department are related to the needs of people for formal education in a wide variety of subjects; and from this point of view, it is difficult to estimate the numbers of people who are involved in agricultural subjects from one year to the next. The majority of courses in agricultural subjects are prepared and presented by Department of Agriculture officers .

Page Last Reviewed: 20 Nov 2017
Top of page